Orthodox Abuse Suspects Get Exemption

Agudath Israel Opposes Brooklyn Prosecutors' Refusal to Identify

By Paul Berger

Published April 24, 2012, issue of May 04, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

This is an updated version of a story that first appeared on forward.com earlier this week.

Orthodox Jews convicted of or charged with child sex abuse in Brooklyn should have their identities protected because of the community’s “tight-knit and insular” nature, prosecutors claim in a response to The Forward’s request for information about the cases.

No Names of Orthodox: Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes says the ‘tight-knit’ nature of the Orthodox community makes it impossible to disclose the identities of abuse suspects without also identifying their victims.
Kings County District Attorney's Office
No Names of Orthodox: Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes says the ‘tight-knit’ nature of the Orthodox community makes it impossible to disclose the identities of abuse suspects without also identifying their victims.

Rejecting the request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office stated that Orthodox Jews deserve a blanket exemption from the usual public disclosure rules.

Brooklyn prosecutors, working in the office of District Attorney Charles Hynes, claimed that Orthodox Jews are “unique” in that releasing the names of suspects would allow others in the community to identify their victims.

“The circumstances here are unique,” Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dennehy wrote in an April 16 letter to the Forward. “Because all of the requested defendant names relate to Hasidic men who are alleged to have committed sex crimes against Hasidic victims within a very tight-knit and insular Brooklyn community, there is a significant danger that the disclosure of the defendants’ names would lead members of that community to discern the identities of the victims.”

The policy quickly came under fire from community groups, children’s advocates and legal experts.

Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella group that usually supports Hynes’s approach to combating abuse in the community, came out against the decision to claim a blanket exemption.

Rabbi David Zwiebel, who is Agudath’s executive vice president and a legal expert, said that a policy of withholding names of perpetrators should not be “across the board” in any community, according to Agudath spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran.

Instead, Zwiebel believes that the release of defendants’ names should be evaluated on “a case-by-case basis,” Shafran said.

Although Brooklyn District Attorney Hynes has long resisted requests to identify Orthodox sex suspects, the letter is believed to represent the first time his office spelled out why it specifically singled them out for preferential treatment.

Dennehy cited the state’s civil rights laws in denying the Forward’s request for the names of 85 Orthodox Jews arrested on sex charges during the past three years. The Forward made its request in December 2011 after prosecutors announced that scores of Orthodox Jews had been charged under a special program designed to encourage the community to come forward with information.

He did not explain whether prosecutors had concluded that there was anything specific about each of the 85 suspects that might make it possible for others to determine the identity of the victim from the identity of the suspect.

He also did not explain whether such a blanket exemption might be granted to other similarly “tight-knit” communities in the borough. And there were no details about what criteria prosecutors would use to determine whether a particular group should be granted such preferential status.’

Dennehy also claimed that revealing the names of abuse suspects could harm the operation of the D.A.’s special hotline, Kol Tzedek, or the Voice of Justice, which was set up three years ago to encourage Orthodox abuse victims to come forward. Disclosing suspects’ names could cause victims to lose faith in the hotline, which, in turn, would “interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings,” he claimed.

Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University, said that prosecutors’ refusal to release the suspects’ names or other information about their alleged crimes amounts to “enabling” abusers.

“I think they are complicit in what enables these kinds of perpetrators in these kinds of communities if they are going… to refuse to publish names of any child sex predators,” Hamilton said. “When names of perpetrators are made public, their other victims are empowered to come forward and the whole community is given the power to identify and stop them and other predators.”

Hamilton added, “What the D.A.’s office is doing, unfortunately, is playing right into the hands of the abusers.”

Laura Ahearn, executive director of the advocacy group Parents for Megan’s Law, said disclosure laws must be applied equally to everyone.

Her group advocates for enforcement of the rules mandating identification of sex offenders. The issue came to national prominence after the 1994 rape and murder of Megan Kanka in suburban New Jersey by a convicted sex offender living on the family’s block.

“[Hynes’s] decision to withhold names is likely leaving the public vulnerable,” Ahearn said.

Daniel Mullkoff, a legal fellow with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said there was no good reason to withhold the names of abuse suspects from the public.

“In this case, the public has raised concerns about what the district attorney is doing,” he said. “Withholding of this information is without a legal basis and denies access to just the type of information that the public records law seeks to make public.”

In October 2009, Hynes’s office redacted the names of 26 Orthodox Jews on a list of those charged with sex crimes. A Freedom of Information Law request submitted by the Forward to see those names was refused.

When Hynes last year trumpeted the arrests of 85 Orthodox Jews on sex crimes charges since 2008, he again refused to release the suspects’ names.

He cited the need to protect the identity of victims. Yet that same week, Hynes issued a press release publicizing the name of a non-Jewish man convicted of raping his girlfriend’s daughter. Hynes released the man’s name, the neighborhood where he lived and the victim’s age, enough information for any neighbor to identify the girl.

Hynes even refused to name 14 Orthodox defendants who were convicted of sex crimes, 10 of whom pleaded guilty. They were sentenced to between one month and 20 years in jail. Although some of those cases were covered in the media, several were adjudicated without public scrutiny.

An additional 24 people were released on probation after pleading to reduced charges, or after their cases were dismissed. Again, it is likely these cases were not reported in the media.

Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted from the family’s Petaluma, Calif., home in 1993 and murdered, said he was very concerned about Hynes’s policy of withholding suspected sex offenders’ names.

Klaas said it was particularly wrongheaded to withhold the names of people who have pleaded guilty to lesser crimes, which would allow them to avoid having to register as sex offenders.

“The public has the right to know who these individuals are, so they can use that information to protect themselves against those individuals,” Klaas said.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.